“We’re not angry at you, just frustrated.”

I’ve heard this phrase so much over the years and so frequently. It’s very hard to distinguish the difference in meaning of these two words and often I have just thought that it meant the same thing anyway. But I am learning that although these emotions can sometimes be similar, there is a huge difference- the situation, context in which they are used and the difference between the things that are causing the anger or frustration.

In my life, these emotions arise in others when I am in a crisis and behaving in self destructive ways. Often, the professionals (or on the rare occssion, people from my interpresonal life) viewing the situation and having to “deal” with it tend to come across as abrupt and could very easily be portrayed as anger, due to the words they use, and the mannerism.

So I have asked this question so many times. “Are you angry at me?” 

Lately instead of making assumptions that these two words are the same, I have begun to ask them to explain what they actually mean. 

Now I understand (despite the thoughts in my head telling me otherwise) that it’s not me as a person they are frustrated at; it’s the situation – not knowing how to help, not sure what to understand yet wanting to, not being able to get through to me because my barriers are so so high, not seeing any outward progress, and many more factors. Of course, having to clean up and potentially putting themselves in dangerous or physically draining situations isn’t pleasant either.

It brings me back to a couple of months ago when I was moved from my last acute ward to a PICU due to my behaviours becoming unmanageable. I had developed such good therapeutic relationships with them and it was heartbreaking. Interestingly enough, I was explained to by various authority figures including the ward manager and consultant, that one of the main reasons of me being deemed unmanageable was because witnessing me being in so much distress and having to intervene on a daily basis was affecting the staff team’s emotional ability to cope and work, especially after getting to know me so well. I was shocked, and it reminds me that professionals are human beings too. This in itself is another example of frustration. Although I had to be moved, this particular acute ward tried their utmost to avoid me having to be moved to the PICU, and for that intention, I am grateful.

I hope this post has helped some of you who are in similar situations; finding it difficult to understand the meanings and reasons behind anger and frustration. Remember that their emotions belong to them, and it is not a reflection of you.

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